Today marks the day in which, seventy-one years ago, the late Lubavitcher Rebbe accepted the mantle of leadership of the Chabad movement and world Jewry, exactly one year after his predecessor passed away.
The Rebbe was, and remains, one of Jewish history’s most influential leaders, who changed and illuminated the lives of millions of people worldwide with his abundant wellspring of wisdom, his unconditional love for each and all, and his incessant drive to better our world every single day.
All who encountered the Rebbe were taken aback by his irresistible, personal charisma, his saintly aura, and his greater-than-life persona.
But above all, it was his eyes that left a permanent mark on all who had the privilege of meeting him.
Yitzchak Rabin, one of Israel’s Prime Ministers, recounted how “his eyes were a calm deep blue, they penetrated deep within the person. His eyes expressed what is going on in his heart and mind. From the whole conversation, this is what stayed with me from his appearance…”
Elie Wiesel, the famed Holocaust survivor, shared at a Gala honoring the Rebbe, how “his eyes penetrated your face without hurting.”
And Chief Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks described how “the Divine stared at me through his [the Rebbe’s] eyes.”
Although I was just seven years old when I first met the Rebbe, I too vividly remember the Rebbe’s penetrating eyes. When the Rebbe’s eyes locked with mine, it felt as if the Rebbe was transporting me to the heavens. There, he saw, and introduced me to my soul, and its sublime majesty, anew.
But more than the Rebbe’s gaze, it was his vision that transformed humanity. When he saw people, he saw souls; not bodies. When he saw challenges, he saw opportunities; not dangers. And when he saw ashes of destruction; he saw their sparks of construction within; not the dust without.
A woman, once asked the Rebbe how he had the strength to stand all day, sometimes for seven or eight hours, to bless everyone, and give them dollars to charity. The Rebbe’s reply was deeply moving: “When you’re counting diamonds,” he responded, “you don’t get tired.”
Shortly after the Yom Kippur war of 1973, a group of “Disabled Veterans of the IDF” visited the Rebbe In his address, the Rebbe spoke about how he objected to the use of the term ‘disabled.’
“If a person has been deprived of a limb or a faculty,” he said to these heroic veterans, “this itself indicates that G‑d has given him special powers to overcome the limitations this entails and to surpass the achievements of ordinary people. You are not ‘disabled’ or ‘handicapped,’ but exceptional and unique, as you possess potentials that the rest of us do not.”
The Rebbe then suggested: “Therefore, you should no longer be called ‘the disabled of Israel,’ but ‘the exceptional of Israel.'”
In another instance, a young child once visited the Rebbe with his mother, after he was expelled from school for repeated disciplinary violations.
The Rebbe first asked the child if he was behaving well.
The child responded with an emphatic “no.”
The Rebbe proceeded to ask the child if he likes going to school.
Again, the child responded “no”.
Finally, the Rebbe asked the child: “Do you listen to your mother?”
Once again, the child answered “no!”
With a radiant smile, the Rebbe then turned to the child’s mother and said: “You have a very special child. He always speaks the truth. And Truth is a very good attribute to have.”
Many years later, this young child, recounted how this defining exchange with the Rebbe caused him to reconnect and “jump right back into the whole scene.”
If only we could see individuals as diamonds, disabled people as exceptional people, and rebellious children as champions of truth. If only we could adopt the Rebbe’s vision, and see the infinite good in everything, the Divine soul in everyone, and the endless possibilities in every moment.
This is what the Rebbe wanted from each of us. “Open your eyes and see the seeds of redemption everywhere,” he pleaded in many of his talks. And if we still can’t see these seeds of redemption, we must open our eyes a little more, until our vision becomes wider, and therefore, better and brighter.
And so, on this day, as we celebrate and do our best to emulate the Rebbe’s leadership, let us “open our eyes” widely and keep them open, today, tomorrow, and forever. And as we see those “seeds of redemption everywhere,” let us water them, and make them grow, with incessant deeds of goodness and kindness.
A new reality of redemption and peace will then undoubtedly be revealed, where “we will lift up our eyes and see, they have all gathered together… and our hearts will tremble and swell with joy” (Isaiah 60:4-5).